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The Great Return: What Are Major Companies Doing to Get People Back To The Office?

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While the last 12 months have seen return-to-office timelines set, and then pushed out, and then pushed out again, recently a number of companies have either firmly committed to, or have actively begun The Great Return.

Two years ago, when the majority of US business enterprises embarked on the then-radical model shift to remote work, many companies had no experience or roadmap to inform their decision-making, and were forced to innovate on the fly. Since then, and in line with that model shift, a previously esoteric profession has risen to prominence: remote-work experts, management consultants advising Boards, CEOs, and other key stakeholder leadership on the trade-offs between cost-savings and reduced collaboration opportunities, and the staying power – or lack thereof – of corporate culture, with the diminishment of in-person interactions. After discussions with more than 300 companies over the past two years, Stanford Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom (who authored his first study on remote work in 2004) claims that work from home arrangements have shown to improve productivity slightly, but improve employee retention rates significantly.

Bloomberg indicates that 70 percent of knowledge industry workers including management consultants, information technology professionals, and lawyers and law firm executives desire a hybrid workplace, with 20 percent comprising “remote natives” who have joined their current companies during the pandemic, and have the expectation to continue a remote/hybrid working arrangement.

How Are Companies Paving The Way For The Great Return?

So then, what kinds of approaches are major institutions taking to returning to the office? While many companies, including Amazon, Twitter, and Reddit have enacted policies for their employees to work from home (or wherever!) indefinitely, several of the major tech corporations have a firm timeline in place for their return to office model.

According to Fast Company:

• Alphabet (Google): Employees will need to work from the office for at least three days a week beginning on April 4.

• Apple: On April 11, employees will have to work from the office at least one day a week. That jumps to three days per week on April 23.

• Meta (Facebook): The company says employees will need to be back at work on March 28, unless they request a deferral before mid-March.

• Microsoft: By March 28, employees will have to move to a hybrid work model agreed with their individual managers.

And of course, many people have a less-than-optimal “home office” situation, or just crave the resumption of interpersonal connection with teams, and have been counting down the days to The Great Return. It can be easier to get an answer to a question by walking down the hall to a colleague’s office than waiting for an email reply, and many executives contend that there is no tradeoff for in-person mentoring and hands-on learning for the development of the next generation of professional leadership.

The ”new normal” in terms of physical structure and trends in office design has seen an emphasis on collaborative spaces and enhancing the office as a destination place – “make offices so appealing that people want to be there,” says Wall Street Journal workplace reporter, Chip Cutter. Whether it is through outdoor terraces with skyline views, free massage and meditation sessions, or copious amounts of complimentary food and beverages, companies are coming up with all kinds of work perks to entice people back into the office.

Employee well-being programs were on the rise even before COVID struck. The Alexander Group has written frequently about these programs in its Wellness in the Workplace Series, and how wellness is strategically integrated with return-to-the-office plans and hybrid work models. Companies are assessing physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and financial wellness in striving for that illusive work-life balance as the distinction between “work” and “home” evolves.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to new work models and office returns, the companies that are able to best align their approach with their culture, employee preferences, and business objectives will emerge the winners in the days and years to come.

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